Monthly Archives: August 2017

CD review: Re:Works Piano

First published in the Guardian on 3 August, 2017

Re:Works Piano
Various (Decca)

In 1917, Erik Satie coined the term ‘musique d’ameublement’  (‘furniture music’) in a radical stunt of deadpan performance art. “It’s new!” he wrote in his manuscript. “It isn’t tiring! It isn’t boring!” Satie’s rogue irony pre-empted Muzak by several decades and set in motion (or anti-motion) the slow cogs of ambient music and experimental minimalism. Then there’s the dross. The most callous kind of crossover saps the integrity of both forms crossed. Decca — once a stamp of prestige, now part of the Universal label group that cashes in on insipid ‘neo-classical’ or ‘indie-classical’ or whatever — releases the next in its Re:Works series with this grim chill-out collection of electronic remixes. Cheerless, senseless and overproduced, it smothers the remaining life out of Pachelbel’s Canon, weirdly straitjackets Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and trashes the maverick surrealist stasis of Satie’s Gymnopodies and Gnossiennes. It’s not new, it is tiring, it is very boring.

CD review: Marsyas play Barsanti

First published in the Guardian on 3 August, 2017

Barsanti & Handel: Edinburgh 1742
Ensemble Marsyas/Whelan (Linn)

What went on behind closed doors in Edinburgh in 1742? The Enlightenment city had no concert halls but there was plenty music afoot. Any self-respecting merchant had a couple of horn-playing servants to follow him up Arthur’s Seat; meanwhile the keen amateurs of the Edinburgh Musical Society imported professional string players from Italy to up their own game. One was composer Francesco Barsanti, who lived in Scotland for eight years and loved the traditional fiddle music he found here. The superstar castrato Tenducci also wound up singing Society gigs while hiding from scandal abroad. Peter Whelan and his terrific Ensemble Marsyas reconstruct a typical Society concert and it’s a intriguing insight, played with great style and charisma. We get the broad, bright elegance of Barsanti’s concerti grossi, his tasteful treatment of old Scots tunes plus a double horn concerto and an aria from Alcina by Handel, mezzo Emilie Renard fierce as Tenducci.

CD review: Judith Wegmann

First published in the Guardian on 3 August, 2017

Judith Wegmann: Le Souffle du Temps
Wegmann (HatHut)

Judith Wegmann, a Swiss jazz improviser and classical pianist, makes beguiling sounds on a prepared piano. This album of improvisations inhabits a spangly, half-lit world of forlorn voices and jittery winged beasts. The name translates as ‘the breath of time’; the subtitle, slightly laborious, is ‘X (rétro-) perspectives’. What I like is how elusive the playing is, meticulous but still indefinable. Characters appear and flit around without any sense of hurry — there’s a grace to the aimlessness. Muted strings twang and clatter gently like a ghostly production line while lonely tunes meander through the din. There is a recurring impression of bells tolling somewhere in the near distance. For me the most satisfying moments are when the sounds go deepest, clangiest and most consonant: the moments when Wegmann appears the least precious and the most gutsy.

Interview: Mark-Anthony Turnage on Greek

First published in The Herald on 2 August, 2017

“I haven’t been so angry for a long time,” says composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. His voice is laconic, as though the statement is too obvious to even bother. “I was angry during the Thatcher years. Now I’ve got my anger back.”

There is older anger afoot. Oedipus is raging in a greasy spoon. We already know how the story ends: he’ll commit murder, he’ll accidentally sleep with his mother, he’ll gouge out his own eyes. This is the East End of London in the late 1980s, Thatcher’s Britain, a backdrop of football chants and social depravity. Oedipus – let’s call him Eddy, the protagonist of Steven Berkoff’s play Greek – aspires to better but fate pulls him back. “Fate,” his mum warns him, “makes us play the roles we’re cast.”

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